Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Biographies, Famous and Infamous
Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers by Leslie Bennetts is something I picked up after reading an interview (somewhere Day Job-related) by the author.  Bennetts basically said that she had previously resisted biography writing because she couldn't imagine spending "that much time with one person and not getting bored" (paraphrasing).  But she changed her mind with Joan Rivers - mostly because Rivers is so contradictory how could you possibly get bored?  On one hand here's a woman who was a feminist and comic trailblazer who skewered societal norms and expectations placed on women.  On the other hand?  Rivers was extremely traditional, lambasted women who didn't bend to those societal norms, and made a name for herself with biting "comedy" that often times tore down other women.  So....yeah.  Contradictory.

Bennetts did her research - reading Rivers' books, interviewing friends and colleagues, and I found this to be a very even handed biography.  Other reviews I've read feel that Bennetts "trashed" Joan (and daughter Melissa) - but honestly?  I didn't see that.  Does Bennetts gloss over Joan's warts?  No.  But she also heaps on praise when it's due, and Rivers - for all her faults - had a pretty extraordinary life.

I'm neither a big Rivers fan nor do I loathe her - and this book didn't tip me further into one camp or the other.  But I did walk away fascinated by her story and with a newfound admiration.  Love her, hate her, there's no denying she was a force of nature.

Final Grade = B+ (very good on audio)
Let's be honest: outside of diehard fans, the only reasons one wants to read Every Little Step: My Story by Bobby Brown (w/Nick Chiles) is for 1) the trainwreck and 2) Whitney.  Which is mostly why I read it - but also because I think a lot of scorn was heaped on Bobby and not always "fairly."  I think we all can see now, in hindsight, that Whitney was not the Princess Good Girl Next Door that her handlers wanted the public to think she was.  But was Bobby the bogeyman who "corrupted" America's Sweetheart?  Hardly.  They were terrible for each other - in only the way two drug addicts can be terrible for each other - but casting Bobby in a villainous role against Whitney's sweetheart image stopped working a long time ago (if it even worked to begin with...)

The book opens with Brown's childhood in the Boston projects and ends with the death of his daughter, Bobbi Kristina.  Brown is fairly candid and willingly admits his mistakes.  However, he also throws quite a bit of shade towards the Houston clan - some of it warranted, in my opinion.  Again, hindsight being what it is.  People who paint Bobby has the villain will likely be unmoved, but when it comes to Whitney's problems, and later Bobbi Kristina's issues - I think there's plenty of what-ifs and blame that can be tossed around and it shouldn't all be landing at Bobby's feet.

I do think Brown probably could have devoted more time to the New Edition years, and those relationships, especially given that NE hit it big when Brown was only 14.  I felt like there was stuff left unsaid during those chapters, which may disappoint hardcore NE fans who pick up this book for that reason.

A note about the audiobook: avoid it.  Brown reads it and he's pretty terrible. It's like listening to a kid read out loud. He's past the "sounding out words" phase, but he stumbles, halts, and skips over pesky punctuation like commas and periods.  Look - some people just aren't good at "reading out loud."  Plus, between Brown's documented health issues, years of drug abuse, and his spotty formal education - it's no wonder he doesn't sound like James Earl Jones.  When the narrative gets more "conversational," he does better - and it's obvious he's not stupid - he's just not a good reader.  Note to publishers: when it comes to biographies we don't always need the author/subject to read the audio version.  We really don't.

Final Grade = C+

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